R. Joshua Reynolds
Recently I had the opportunity to view the work of a young film-maker. Comparing the social effects of two television series, Clarence Williams IV asks very important questions. “Brilliance or Buffoonery” is a documentary-style case study of two popular black sitcoms Amos N Andy and Kenan and Kel. While the two series were produced years apart, Williams points out striking similarities.
As the title of the piece indicates, Williams asks various members of the African-American their opinions of both shows. After seeing clips of Amos N Andy, I was surprised at the initial response from first time viewers. The seasoned interviewees mention that upon their first viewing of Amos N Andy they were happy to see Black actors appear on a television show. Only predated by a few years, Amos N Andy was one of very few of its kind. Indeed, each episode brought a sense of joy and for some pride. Now, with more years and more wisdom, the seasoned participants shared different sentiments.
A few stated that now they realize all of the stereotypes that were being portrayed by the Actors in the 1950s television series. They make mention of blacks being portrayed in a negative light: lazy, jovial and ignorant. The question arose, “Are blacks still portrayed as such?”
Williams next examined the more recent hit show Kenan and Kel. What he found were striking resemblances to the older show. In both shows, one of the main characters had some control over his cohort. Both shows used physical comedy as a means to garner laughter from its audience. However, a big difference was how Williams’ interviewees reacted to Kenan and Kel.
Generally, the newer sitcom is not viewed as disrespectful to black culture. Indeed, many positive qualities about Kenan and his friend Kel were pointed out. Kel was highly intellectual. Too add, his parents were rocket scientists. Some did admit, however, that did portray some stereotypes but also noted that white shows in the same era displayed the same “buffoonery”. Therefore, it was not viewed as particularly racist.
Creating a documentary for school, Williams displays great potential as a future filmmaker. While there are minor cinematography improvements that can be made, Williams made very good choices as to the order of his presentation and his delivering of content. Viewers have a lot to look forward to when Williams’ future endeavors come to fruition.